Frustrated by the conservative tendencies of most religiously active Americans, a group of liberal religious activists have started “Red Letter Christians” to espouse political themes of the left.Referring, of course, to the fact that words of Jesus in Bibles are often printed in red letters, these new “red-letter” communicators and activists want to steer Christians away from concerns about marriage and abortion and towards anti-war activism and environmental causes.
Red-Letter evangelist Tony Campolo, in a column for Beliefnet.com, explained earlier this year what this new activist group is all about:
“We are evangelicals who are troubled by what is happening to poor people in America; who are disturbed over environmental policies that are contributing to global warming; who are dismayed over the increasing arrogance of power shown in our country’s militarism; who are outraged because government funding is being reduced for schools where students, often from impoverished and dysfunctional homes, are testing poorly; who are upset with the fact that of the 22 industrialized nations America is next to last in the proportion of its national budget (less than two-tenths of 1 percent) that is designated to help the poor of third-world countries; and who are broken-hearted over discrimination against women, people of color, and those who suffer because of their sexual orientation.”
Campolo, of course, insists that his fellow Red-Letters are not Republicans or Democrats but are simply people of faith who want to “jump-start a religious movement that will transcend partisan politics.”
Other Red-Letter activists include Sojourners chief Jim Wallis, “emerging church” guru Brian McLaren, Columbia University professor Randall Balmer, Franciscan priest and writer Richard Rohr, Evangelicals for Social Action leader Ron Sider, and Episcopal priest and commentator Barbara Brown Taylor, among others.
In his own column about the Red Letters, Wallis explains that Jesus Christ “likely…wouldn’t think capital gains tax cuts for the wealthy and food stamp cuts for the poor represent the best domestic policy. Or when he tells us “love your enemies” and “blessed are the peacemakers,” it might be hard to persuade him to join our “war against terrorism,” especially when there is so much “collateral damage” to civilians, including women and children.”
Unlike “many of our churches, the Wall Street traders, and the powerful people in Washington who maintain the American Empire,” Wallis insists that the Red Letter Christians believe in a Jesus who belongs to the political left.
Reportedly, the Red Letter Christians have printed 50,000 “Voting Our Values” voter guides for this year’s elections and are ordering up 150,000 more. Like most such voter guides geared towards churches, they do not endorse candidates, but they judge politicians based on their support for increasing the minimum wage, banning the death penalty, withdrawing from Iraq, creating a guest worker program and supporting renewable energy.
The Red Letter operation seems to be staffed by and headquartered at Jim Wallis’ Sojourners office in Washington, D.C. Comprised of left-leaning religionists who are uncomfortable with the traditionalist beliefs of most Christians in America, they mostly express frustration that more church goers have not adopted their conception of class warfare, and hostility to U.S. power in the world.
“These wedge issues [of abortion and homosexuality] allow ultraconservatives to hide in their offices and cower behind their pulpit, rather than stand beside the people that need them most,” complained clergy activist Romal Tune in a news release passed out at a recent Red Letter press conference in Washington, D.C. “That’s the difference between prophetic ministry and pathetic ministry. The convening of Red Letter Christians allows us to draw attention to the words of Jesus and hear what he has to say about justice, liberation, and equality for all people.”
Sojourners activist Adam Taylor, further explained in the same news release: “The Red Letter Christians are about a different kind of partisanship: a partisanship for peace, and on behalf of the least, the last, and the lost among us.”
The Red Letter Christians like to complain about the “elite.” But of course, they are the elite, ensconced on the faculty of major universities, offering commentary on National Public Radio, and getting rave reviews from liberal media outlets for their supposedly courageous opposition to religious conservatives.
Red Letter Christians, like much of the Religious Left, want to avoid or deny traditional religious teachings about sexual mores and human life. Instead, they claim that God has endorsed very specific policy proposals about expanding the Food Stamp program, increasing the Minimum Wage, paying more homage to the United Nations, shutting down the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo, accepting apocalyptic claims about global warming and embracing the consequent increased regulation of the private economy, opposing nearly all U.S. military action, and faulting the U.S. and the West for nearly all global poverty, while defining foreign aid as a reparation that is never high enough, whether that aid is actually effective in reducing human suffering or not.
In short, Red Letter Christians want to demote the issues to which the Bible speaks directly in favor of other issues dear to the secular Left that rely on a grossly expansionist interpretation of the Bible. For the Red Letter crowd, Jesus’ concern about the poor means a larger federal welfare state. The Bible’s story of God’s creation of the earth must mean that the U.S. has to endorse the Kyoto Accord. Messianic prophecies about world peace are interpreted to demand disarmament and abrogation of U.S. sovereignty.
In reality, the Bible and Christian tradition outline the plan of salvation and a code for decent living. They offer broad principles for ordering human life; they do not, as the Red Letter crowd wants to claim, offer specific legislative policy demands that conform conveniently with the platform of the Democratic Party.
These Red Letter Fundamentalists are claiming to follow the words of Jesus. But most church goers will recognize that these “red letters” more closely resemble the editorial pages of The New York Times.